Limits of Policy-Making

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In today’s society, policy makers face many limitations in the policy-making process. The biggest limitation to date is the ever-increasing pluralistic values inherent in society. A pluralistic approach can be defined as “different groups… in society are divided by ideology, economic and cultural factors; all seeking to have their interests reflected in public policy”1 These competing interests from such groups as politicians, interest groups and the media play a big role in the outcomes of policy making. Other important factors in the limitations of policy-making include the short time horizon that politicians have to pass policy, as well as the unequal distribution of wealth; where the elite groups in society have the most financial and social clout, and therefore the most influence on the policy-making process. This essay will continue to describe the aforementioned limitations on policy makers, as well as discuss whether or not these limitations are necessary and/or functional; whether or not they serve a useful purpose or any particular interests; and whether or not they are a hindrance or help to effective, honest and meaningful policy-making. The biggest limitation facing policymaking these days are the competing interests of several different groups. As McCool describes, “Public policies are the product of many individuals with different values, preferences, beliefs and knowledge”2 Firstly, it is politicians who make policy. Their main objective is to keep their jobs and therefore make policy that will get them votes in the next election. Successful politicians are ones who pass policies that will keep them in office or gain approval from other politicians or bureaucrats.3 Secondly, interest groups attempt to influence policy makers to achieve their own ends; which may or not be good for society as a whole. In her introduction to the policy making process, Pal makes this clear : “Each player or set of players tries to influence the policy process in their favour, to achieve the outcomes which reflect their interests.”4 So when certain groups participate in policy-making, it is only to defend their own interests.5 Lastly, the media also plays a huge role in what topics get raised in the policy making process because the media has the greatest influence on what the public perceives to be important. For example, In a 1997 survey by Katherine Beckett, 90% of those polled said that the media represents the principle source of information about crime”6 This wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself, but the for the most part the media does not accurately portray current goings on in society. Instead, they too act in their own interest –that is ratings – and sensationalize much of what we see, and therefore skew what topics are thrown at policy makers. Ismaili explains : “This is manifested when policy makers interpret heightened media coverage as an indication of public concern warranting public action or as an opportunity for political exposure and/or direct political gain.”7 In the case of criminal justice policy Surette explains that “The media do not provide the public with enough knowledge to directly evaluate the criminal justice system’s performance, but media content steers people toward particular policies and assessments.”8 Clearly, these three groups : politicians, interest groups, and the media are pursuing their own competing interests when it comes to policy making. But are their interests necessary or functional? For all three groups, competing for their interests, whether it is a seat in office, or TV ratings are necessary for all three groups to keep their jobs. If their interests aren’t met, they will lose their jobs. For the media’s case, it’s not that they cannot show less sensationalized news analysis, but they cannot afford to do it,9 The same problem goes for interest groups, if they cannot lobby their cause and receive government’s financial assistance, they cannot survive....
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